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Digitally departed: How to avoid being haunted by an online afterlife

BY Zachary Green and Xander Landen  July 12, 2014 at 11:28 AM EDT

When someone dies, he or she inevitably leaves behind a digital footprint composed of social media profiles, e-mail accounts, photos and other documents that may otherwise hang in an online limbo.

As our digital lives become more complicated, one important question begs asking: How can we tie up all of our loose ends to avoid being haunted by a digital afterlife?

The answer may surprise you.

Because of varying terms of service, only some websites offer end-of-life options. And dozens of commercial websites have emerged over the last few years to help.

Here are a few.

Facebook provides “memorialized” profiles

The social media giant allows user profiles to be “memorialized”, which limits the account from popping up on news feeds and blocks it from outside use.

It also lets friends and family leave posts of remembrance on the page of the deceased. Facebook does look at requests from immediate family members to remove a deceased user’s account, but they must provide proof of their relationship to the person who has died.

Google offers “end-of-life” service

Last year, Google began offering an end-of-life service called Inactive Account Manager, which allows users of many of its products the option of deciding what happens to their data. Users can specify when their account is treated as inactive and add trusted contacts who should be notified to delete or share data with specific people after a set period of inactivity.

Posthumous messages greet loved ones on special occasions

Sites such as Afterwords and My Goodbye Message allow users to write messages to friends and family to be sent after the user has died. Some sites like To Loved Ones even allow users to time messages to be sent on specific occasions, such as birthdays or anniversaries.

Digital vaults keep online information secure

End-of-life services like TheDocSafe and Death Switch allow people to place important information, such as bank statements, usernames, and passwords, into secure online storage. The user designates one or more trusted people to release the information to, once he or she has passed away.

Online memorials keep memories alive in the digital space

Memorial sites allow loved ones to set up web pages devoted to a deceased person’s memory. Some sites like Bcelebrated actually allow the user to set up their own memorial page ahead of their death.

For more end-of-life services, visit TheDigitalBeyond.

For more from NewsHour on digital death and online estate planning, including an interview with TheDigitalBeyond.com co-author, Evan Carroll — see our earlier reporting: Law Lags Behind in Defining Posthumous Protocol for Online Accounts.